Saturday, January 29, 2011

Freedom of Movement

One human right that is often tabled to the side in the discussion is the freedom of movement. This is the right for humans to be able to openly travel between countries without the current limitation that nations place on immigration, for vacation or political protection.
In the United Nation’s Declaration of Human Rights it is stated as Article 13:
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.
One of the basic ideas behind looking at this as a human right is that in part 1, it tries to protect people within their own country. A reason for this might be that the government is not allowed to politically isolate someone to their home, or restricted to a person to a district in their own country. This is also a basic human right because if people are self-determined, they will seek out other people beyond their home for political and social movements. Historically governments tried to restrict the movement within countries like in the Soviet Union where interstate travel was limited and to leave the country, exit visas were required. Finally people seeking political asylum need to be secured to provide for their safety and to protect them as they wait to leave their oppressive country.
Immigrants are most likely the most commonly affect group by this issue. Individual government set up quotas on how many, country of origin and qualifications before immigrants are allowed in some countries. Initially this caps the totally number of people who can satisfied their desire to move. Next once some immigrants have arrived under the radar this creates huge numbers of illegal immigrants who exist in a gray world of legality so they are subject to unfair treatment, labor abuse and rapid deportation. Even though most of them are intent on moving in order to get a better job, receive a quality education and try to make their own lives better, they are often seen as a menace and drain on the welfare state. We quickly forget in our societal calculus that if these immigrants move abroad and stay, that is a sacrifice, and even if they seem to be using some tax dollars, their own lives have improved.
One of the major principles about the freedom of movement is that the place someone is born should not limited to just their own country. Instead we should view our neighbors as global citizens, and if we embraced a world of unfettered travel, moving to new homes and go abroad to study, it could help bring more equality of opportunity to the people who really wanted to try and it would protect political victims from being prosecuted or killed in their own country.
So my question is: Could much of the world have open borders and let people move free as they do in the EU or is this human right an unrealistic dream?


  1. This is an important issue to consider given the contemporary effects of migration, especially in the developed West. As with so many of the problems highlighted on the blog, there is a conflict between notional rights and political reality.

    While in an ideal world any person would be free to move about wherever he or she wished, the current political and economic structures of individual nation states make such freedom highligh problematic. The Schengen agreement in Europe works (to the extent that it does) precisely because the EU has become so politically and economically integrated over past decades; travel between Poland and France is one thing, travel between Niger and France quite another. It has been argued that open borders are incompatible with a welfare state, since the richest nations would be invariably swamped by more migrants from poor countries than they could possibly assimilate. Given the oppurtunity, there are undoubtedly tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, of individuals worldwide who would come to the United States if given the oppurtunity, but it seems unlikely that such a situation would be politically tenable.

    Essentially, complete freedom of movement would require the death of the nation state as we know it. I think it notable that Kant's sketch on Perpetual Peace called for a "law of universal hospitality" whereby everyone would be assurred safe passage into into any country, but could not stay permanently except by the consent of the existing residents. This principle seems to take into account the tension between the interest of the individual in free movement and the interest of the community in maintaining its own regulatory power over who can live and work in its midst. While the right to "freedom of movement" may be a laudable goal in of itself, the right to live or work wherever one pleases is unworkable until such time as the world may enjoy a degree of political and economic intergration hitherto unprecedented.

  2. Well put Patrick. It seems to me that a liberal political view would favor freedom of movement because people should be as free as possible. However, from a socialist perspective it is very clear that persons granted free access will only move places they perceive as better. Everyone would swap countries like America (God bless), which would not only result in overpopulation and a decreased quality of life for people already living here (deja vu?), but render vacated countries incapable of functioning. As for illegals, I know some really great people I could not stand to see deported. Unfortunately the numbers and dollars the government has to deal with are real, and as impersonal and cruel as it may be, it is, believe it or not, looking out for America's best interests.

  3. This post highlights such an important human rights issue within our world today. I think you are so right to approach the issues of immigration from the foreigners perspective, because it is so often overlooked and not considered.

    A recent study and poll taken by The Gallup Organization found that “roughly 700 million adults worldwide would like to move permanently to another country if they had the opportunity.” From this estimation, the United States remained as the leading most desired country to migrate. The United States was founded upon the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and the “American dream” of being able to develop a life coming from nothing fosters optimism for immigrants and the possibility to succeed. Appealing to people worldwide, the hope that comes from countries similar to the United States urges people to reassess their own lives and their own culture. I am so split between nationalist ideals and the natural human desire to see people succeed, I do not know the best option. I feel like if foreigners are trying to accept the ways of a country and contribute to the economy, it is our duty to help show them or provide an example for a better life. Yet, if the United States just let everyone in that was interested, the statistic showed that the population of the United States would exceed our land and resources. This would not be good for either the US or the immigrants. It's definitely an issue to debate.


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